Raritan School Building
The Henderson County Historical Society was organized in 1962, but was active for only a few years. In 1975 there was renewed interest in preserving the county’s history and the Historical Society became active again. A museum committee was formed, a storage facility located and on Memorial Day, 1975, Howard Pruett from Oquawka (the north end of the county) and James Cook (a resident of the south end of the county) were put to the task of acquiring artifacts.
The Raritan Grade School was built in 1925-26 and was strictly a town school until 1950, when the rural one room schools were closed, and those students came to town for their education. In 1950 the flat roof portion of the school was added. In 1954 the Morton building was attached and used primarily as a recess/physical education room.
The school building was no longer used in 1973, due to the consolidation of Media-Wever and Stronghurst school districts the previous year. Three years later the Historical Society was allowed to use the building to house the artifacts they had acquired to that point.
In 1979 the Southern School District sold the building and surrounding lots to the village of Raritan. In turn, they sold the building and surrounding lot to the Historical Society for the sum of $3,750.00.
By July 4, 1979, three and one half school rooms were filled with artifacts either donated or loaned. The first curator was Rita Souther, a history major graduate of Brigham Young University. Ms. Souther later was employed by the National Museum in Washington, D.C.
Since that time, there have been many hands that organized, catalogued and maintained the brick school house. James and Doris Cook are still responsible for the building and have been for 35 years.
The site of the Henderson County Museum’s Ag Building has a rich and interesting history. In 1873 the site was home to the Methodist Episcopal Church. The church was build in the Gothic style with a corner tower that housed the bell, and a sanctuary with the capacity of bout 350 parishioners.
By the 1920’s the membership had fallen. The building was used as a meeting place until 1929. In 1933 the building was sold to Elmer Livemrore, who converted it into a workshop. In 1946 a brick building was erected in front of the church by Dick Brown. The property was now called the Raritan Machinery Company and was used as a car and implement dealership.
In 1981 Orville Robeson used the building as a seed corn dealership (he created his own line of hybrid seed corn) and for implement storage. Then, early in the 1990’s Mr. Robeson gave the property to the Henderson County Historical Society to be included as part of the Museum.
Included in the acquisition of the original Methodist Episcopal Church property were two additional buildings. The Blacksmith shop is located on the north side of the lot. A small open ended shed was also included. The seed corn building, the church, and the open ended shed were all destroyed in the tornado that devastated Raritan in 1995.
The dealership and the church were razed. Much of the material from the church was saved and recycled into display cases, frames, and doors to be used as displays. With the generous aid of the Twomey Foundation and other contributors, a 60×75 foot pole building was built on the site. This ag building currently houses antique farm implements and machinery from the 1800’s and 1900’s.
*Information and pictures are from “Raritan Remembers 1856-2006” history book by James Cook, Doris Cook, Janet Brokaw and Roberta Hanger and Richard Knapp. Copies of the book are still available.